Sophie* is standing in line at her local pharmacy.
In front of her, an older man is growing increasingly impatient. He shifts from foot to foot; sighs, yawns. The staff are all busy with other customers, reading out dosing information from the back of children’s Panadol boxes and filling repeats for Celebrex.
Sophie, too, can feel the first whispers of withdrawal: the tingly skin, the faint ache deep in her bones. But unlike her fellow methadone recipient, she’s resigned to this routine. She knows there’s no point kicking up a stink. Like they do every other morning, the staff will make sure that all the ‘regular’ customers are served before turning their attention to the methadone queue.
When Gary*, the head pharmacist, finally ambles over to dose the sugary synthetic opioid into plastic cups, the older man straightens up. He downs his medicine in a single gulp.
Sophie is six months pregnant. She had wanted to quit taking methadone when she conceived, but her GP had explained to her that quitting, or even reducing her dose too quickly, could result in miscarriage.
Perhaps Gary doesn’t know this; perhaps he simply doesn’t care. But Sophie is fumbly from early withdrawal, and in one horrific moment, she nudges the flimsy cup and watches the syrupy liquid spill out across the benchtop. Eyes wide, she stares at Gary. “Shit. Oh my God. I’m so sorry, could I please…”
“I’m sorry. You know I’m only permitted to give you a single dose per day.”
Sophie’s stomach turns. “But, I’m pregnant!”
“I’m sorry. You know the rules. It’s your responsibility to look after the medicine.”
Sophie sees the long day stretching out ahead of her, sees herself consumed by increasing pain; vomiting. What if she miscarries? In a sickening jolt, she knows what she has to do, and she leans over to suck the dirty liquid from the benchtop before disgust and shame can stop her. She dry heaves; forces the solution back down.
She doesn’t look up once as she hurries from the pharmacy. She can’t stand to see the horror and pity on people’s faces. As she paces toward home, she forces herself not to break into sobs.
This article was written by journalist and SMART Recovery Australia ambassador, Katie Horneshaw.